Democrats hope some presidential candidates drop out — and run for Senate 

Democrats facing a steep uphill climb to win back the Senate want Beto O’Rourke to reconsider his long-shot bid for president and take another look at running for the Senate in Texas, especially if his White House bid fails to pick up momentum.

They feel the same way about two other White House hopefuls who are polling at around 1 percent or lower: former Colorado Gov. John HickenlooperJohn HickenlooperSenate GOP super PAC books more than million in fall ads Poll shows Daines, Bullock neck and neck in Montana Senate race Progressive challenger: How we overcame Chuck Schumer meddling MORE and Montana Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockPolitics and the pandemic — Republicans are rightly worried The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden moves to unify party before general election Poll shows Daines, Bullock neck and neck in Montana Senate race MORE.

Political experts give O’Rourke, Bullock and Hickenlooper little chance of winning the White House but say they could give GOP incumbents in their states a run for the money.

ADVERTISEMENT

If they don’t run, Democrats will have a slimmer chance of winning in the states and taking back the Senate majority in either 2020 or 2022. And that would hamper a Democratic president — if the party can defeat President TrumpDonald John TrumpPelosi eyes end of April to bring a fourth coronavirus relief bill to the floor NBA to contribute 1 million surgical masks to NY essential workers Private equity firm with ties to Kushner asks Trump administration to relax rules on loan program: report MORE.

Democratic senators won’t call out the low-polling presidential candidates by name in public, but they’re not shy about making the argument that some would do more for their party in Senate races than in the crowded presidential fight.

“The clock is running out for people who have not demonstrated any ability to mount a serious presidential bid to help make a real difference in their country by helping to turn the Senate,” said Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseDemocratic senators call on domestic airlines to issue cash refunds for travelers Overnight Energy: Coronavirus package punts on environmental fights | Court sides with tribes in Dakota Access Pipeline case | Trump officials walk away from ethanol court fight Coronavirus package punts on environmental fights MORE (D-R.I.), articulating a sentiment that other Senate Democrats expressed privately.  

“It would be a shame if we elected a new president who faced the same enmity and obstruction in the Senate that Obama had to live through, all because a lot of candidates who had no shot wouldn’t run for winnable Senate seats,” he added.

O’Rourke, a former three-term House member, raised nearly $79 million for his 2018 Senate race and came within 3 points of defeating Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzOvernight Energy: Oil giants meet with Trump at White House | Interior extends tenure of controversial land management chief | Oil prices tick up on hopes of Russia-Saudi deal Oil giants meet at White House amid talk of buying strategic reserves Florida sheriff asks for new leads in disappearance of Carole Baskin's former husband after Netflix's 'Tiger King' drops MORE (R-Texas).

He is hovering around 4 percent in recent Democratic primary polls — down from when he entered the race.

A new Quinnipiac University poll showed that Democrats and people who lean Democratic in Texas say by more than a two-to-one margin that O’Rourke should challenge Sen. John CornynJohn CornynGOP senator: National shelter-in-place order would be an 'overreaction' Lawmakers already planning more coronavirus stimulus after T package Cuban says he'd spank daughter if she was partying during coronavirus pandemic MORE (R-Texas) instead of run for president.

The poll also showed former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenSome Sanders top allies have urged him to withdraw from 2020 race: report Sunday shows preview: As coronavirus spreads in the U.S., officials from each sector of public life weigh in Trump defends firing of intel watchdog, calling him a 'disgrace' MORE ahead of Trump by 4 points in Texas, suggesting a strong Senate candidate could benefit.

Jeff Hewitt, a Democratic strategist who has done extensive work in Texas, said O’Rourke would have a major advantage over any other candidate because he has high name ID in Texas’s 30 media markets as a result of spending nearly $80 million in his 2018 race.

“The fundraising ability, the idea of turning a Texas Senate seat blue, those are all the things that fueled his Senate campaign, which nobody cares about when he’s running for president,” he said. “The smartest political play for O’Rourke would be to go back to Texas and run for Senate."

“He’d have the best chance to pull it off,” Hewitt said of beating Cornyn.

Chris Evans, a spokesman for O’Rourke, said “Beto is grateful for the opportunity he had to run an historic and transformational Senate campaign in 2018 that visited all 254 counties of the state while winning more votes than any Democrat in Texas history.”

He said O’Rourke is “committed to bringing forward that same drive and ability to not just defeat Donald Trump in November of 2020 but to unite people together so we can overcome the greatest set of challenges this country has ever faced.”

Bullock and Hickenlooper are facing similar scrutiny.

Bullock, a two-term governor, was rated Montana’s most popular politician with a 60 percent approval rating in a Montana State University–Montana Television Network poll published in January.

Hickenlooper, a former two-term governor of Colorado, left office this year with an approval rating of 49 percent — versus a disapproval rating of 30 — and would be a daunting matchup for vulnerable Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerGOP senator calls for investigation into 'mismanagement' of strategic ventilators Romney says he tested negative for coronavirus, will remain in quarantine Senate GOP super PAC books more than million in fall ads MORE (R-Colo.).

Stacey Abrams, who came within 2 points of winning Georgia’s governor’s race last year, is another candidate Senate Democrats see as a solid recruit to take out a GOP incumbent, Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.). Abrams has flirted with running for president, but it now looks she may be preparing for a gubernatorial rematch in 2022.

Like Whitehouse, Senate Democratic Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDemocrats ask EPA, Interior to pause rulemaking amid coronavirus Senator Tom Coburn's government oversight legacy Democratic lawmakers demand government stop deporting unaccompanied children MORE (Ill.) said he also hopes that Democrats with long-shot presidential bids think more seriously about the Senate. But he warned they would have to be fully committed to win.

“We have a number of presidential aspirants who would make excellent senatorial candidates, but they first have to be committed to the race. I hope they’ll reach the point where it makes sense to them,” he said.

Durbin said “of course” there’s frustration among some of his colleagues that promising candidates have decided to run for president instead of the Senate. But he suggested the field could narrow as some realize they have little chance of winning the presidency.

“The system has a way of narrowing the field,” he said.  

Even if high-profile candidates don’t win in Republican-leaning states, they would force Senate Republicans and their allied PACs to divert more money to defending vulnerable incumbents.

A third Democratic senator, who requested anonymity to comment on internal caucus discussions, said, “There’s frustration among people who care about the majority.”

Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterTrump selects White House lawyer for coronavirus inspector general Overnight Health Care: CDC recommends face coverings in public | Resistance to social distancing sparks new worries | Controversy over change of national stockpile definition | McConnell signals fourth coronavirus bill On The Money: Economy sheds 701K jobs in March | Why unemployment checks could take weeks | Confusion surrounds 9B in small-business loans MORE (D), who narrowly survived a bruising reelection race in Republican-leaning Montana last year, said he hears from Democratic colleagues who want Bullock to change his mind and run for Senate.

“But the truth is this is Steve’s call and he’s chosen to run for president. He’d make a great president. I think it’s a hard battle for him to win, but it’s a hard battle for Booker and Bennet and all these other guys I like, too. It’s the way it is,” Tester said, referring to Senate colleagues Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerEnlisting tech to fight coronavirus sparks surveillance fears Democrats urge administration to automatically issue coronavirus checks to more people Democrats ask EPA, Interior to pause rulemaking amid coronavirus MORE (N.J.) and Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetDemocrats urge administration to automatically issue coronavirus checks to more people Five things being discussed for a new coronavirus relief bill Cyber threats spike during coronavirus pandemic MORE (Colo.), two presidential candidates also polling in the low single digits.

A Democratic strategist in Washington who works on Senate races acknowledged that O’Rourke and Abrams would be strong Senate candidates but argued that their high name ID is a result of the work they put into the 2018 campaign cycle and that other candidates can do the same.

“Texas and Georgia are fundamentally competitive, regardless of who the Democratic candidate is. It takes time to build up your name ID. It took Beto O’Rourke and Stacey Abrams two years to do that,” said the strategist.

A poll commissioned by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee published in late April showed on a generic ballot test voters in Georgia are more likely by 2 percentage points to favor an unnamed Democratic candidate for Senate over an unnamed Republican one.  

Democrats need to capture four Republican-held seats, or three GOP seats and the White House, regain the Senate majority.

If Sen. Doug Jones (D) loses in Alabama, a solid red state that President Trump won with 62 percent in 2016, the bar gets even higher.

Political handicappers say Republicans are favored to keep control of the Senate, even though they have to defend 24 seats while Democrats only have to protect 12.

Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, rates Democrats chances of taking back the Senate in 2020 as “not that good.”

“We’ve got 51 seats classified as Republican to one degree or another. There are some toss ups. Democrats are at 46 instead of 47, which they have now, so they’d have to sweep the toss-ups that we’ve got and then manage to convert at least one Republican seat — two if a Republican is reelected to the White House,” he said.

He rates the toss-up states as Arizona, Colorado and Alabama. He views Maine, Iowa and North Carolina as leaning Republican and Montana and Texas as likely Republican.

Senate Republicans currently hold a 53-47 majority.

The problem for Democrats is that only two Senate Republicans are up for reelection in states 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonFormer Obama adviser Plouffe predicts 'historical level' of turnout by Trump supporters Poll: More Republican voters think party is more united than Democratic voters Whoopi Goldberg presses Sanders: 'Why are you still in the race?' MORE won — Gardner in Colorado and Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGOP senators begin informal talks on new coronavirus stimulus GOP presses for swift Ratcliffe confirmation to intel post Campaigns pivot toward health awareness as races sidelined by coronavirus MORE in Maine — and Collins, a fourth-term moderate, will be tough to beat.

Gardner and Sen. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyThe Hill's Campaign Report: Biden struggles to stay in the spotlight Democratic super PAC targets McSally over coronavirus response McSally calls on WHO director to step down MORE (R-Ariz.) are the Democrats’ two most promising targets, but Gardner, who beat incumbent Sen. Mark UdallMark Emery UdallDemocratic presidential race comes into sharp focus Democrats will win back the Senate majority in 2020, all thanks to President Trump Poll: Trump trails three Democrats by 10 points in Colorado MORE (D-Colo.) in 2014, has proven himself to be a canny campaigner.

Democrats, however, could increase their chances of relegating Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPelosi eyes end of April to bring a fourth coronavirus relief bill to the floor Progressive group knocks McConnell for talking judicial picks during coronavirus Overnight Health Care: CDC recommends face coverings in public | Resistance to social distancing sparks new worries | Controversy over change of national stockpile definition | McConnell signals fourth coronavirus bill MORE (R-Ky.) to the minority by expanding their list of targets to include Cornyn and Sen. Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesHow much damage? The true cost of the Senate's coronavirus relief bill McConnell says T bill is 'emergency relief' and not a 'stimulus' The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden moves to unify party before general election MORE (R) in Texas and Montana, respectively.